Disclaimer: I own nothing.


Twenty-Eight

I was glugging down a bottle of water, watching as Liz lined herself up for another shot. Even from my spot on the grass a few yards away I could tell it was rather impressive, it would be a close one for sure. The ball went spinning full speed towards the goal. Oliver shot up immediately his arms outstretching, the tips of his fingers narrowly intercepting the ball.

"How'd you do that?" Liz yelled, incredulous. She had a huge smile on her face though. It seemed she got more and more excited with every ball Oliver blocked.

"Her mind is being blown right now." Theo explained, reading my mind, "MVP has finally met a worthy opponent." He sat down with me and Katie taking the water bottle I offered him. "You sure this fellow's never played before?"

"Well what he's doing now isn't really that far off from being a keeper." Katie mumbled from my other side. She twiddled with some grass at her feet, frowning slightly. Turns out she wasn't nearly as good at maneuvering with her feet as she was with her hands. She pretty much sucked actually. And if there was one thing that Katie Bell disliked—other than romance novels "not nearly having enough romance," and thin sweaters ("what's the point?")—it was being truly horrible at something, especially if that something had to do with competition. To give her some credit, Katie was a graceful sore-loser, much unlike Oliver-the-Drama-Queen-I'm-Going-to-Drown-My-Sorrows-Along-With-My-Pathetic-Disgraced-Body-In-the-Quidditch-Locker-Room-Showers-Wood.

"Bloody hell, how long will they be at it?" Alicia drawled from behind us. She was splayed out on her belly playing with Angelina's tiny woven braids fanned out on the ground. The latter's eyes were closed, her breathing steady as she curled into the grass. It was pretty early when we all got up, we didn't even have any breakfast.

Speaking of breakfast, my stomach growled loudly. I put a hand to my stomach patting it sympathetically. There, there.

"It is getting quite late." Theo admitted, pushing back his sweatshirt to glance at his watch. "Do you think your mates are done cooking by now?"

This time my stomach gurgled in discomfort. The Tomato Twats had decided to opt out of the football session, seeing as there was only so much room in my brother's compact car, instead offering to prepare brunch for when all of us got back. A big fat no was poised on my tongue, but my brother swooped in and gave them a big fat mistake of a yes instead.

Now, I completely believe all the positive reviews and raves of Mrs. Weasley's cooking, but I think I have good reason to think less of Fred and George's capabilities. The only thing I've ever seen them cook up were sweets that induced vomit. Forgive me if my appetite has gone.

Alicia made a gagging noise. My thoughts exactly.

"Um, do you have any places to eat near you?" Katie asked me, looking queasy herself. "You know, just in case."

"Aw, come on." Theo said, getting up and patting dirt off his sweatpants. "It can't be that bad."

"Way ahead of you," I said to Katie once he'd gone to wave over Liz and Oliver. "I know of two that are within walking distance and one that's not. I don't know if the one nearby is open on the weekend but the furthest one definitely is."

Alicia shrugged, giving Angelina a poke on the head to wake her up. "Beggars can't be choosers."

Angelina yawned, sitting up and stretching out. "Well, now I'm fully rested to choke down some puking pastilles." She said sarcastically.

"Is that what they're calling it?" Alicia asked.

Angelina nodded, shaking off the leaves from her jumper she used as a pillow.

"Huh, that's actually pretty catchy." Katie said.

"Sure." Angelina said. "Catchy enough to make you want to eat it though?"

Katie balked while Alicia scoffed, "Fuck no."

Angelina laughed.

"Alright, let's hit the road!" Theo exclaimed, walking back to us, Liz and Oliver in tow, sweaty and talking animatedly with each other. "I had to practically sacrifice myself to pry that ball away from these two."

Liz tossed the football to Oliver, picking up the pace to put her arms around Theo's shoulders. "Sweetie, no one told you to jump in" She told him giving him a peck on the cheek.

Looking more closely I noticed the ugly red splotch forming on Theo's chin. That's going to leave one hell of a bruise.

"Much less in my line of sight." Liz went on.

"I thought I could bounce it off my head." Theo said.

"I think you missed a couple of inches." I pointed out.

Theo rolled his eyes. "Believe me, if I knew I would be knocked out by The Football of Death, I would've steered clear."

"We should put some ice on it." Liz said, examining his face. "It looks like its growing."

"You know," I started innocently. "If you're too indisposed to drive I could always do it."

"Indisposed?" Theo repeated. "Nice try Charles." He snorted.

I let out a huff. "It was worth a try."

"I've heard of too many teenagers landing in the ER from reckless driving to let you drive anywhere without a license."

It was my turn to roll my eyes. Theo getting into Mum Mode wasn't exactly my favorite of his moments. The fact that he was getting into medicine made it all the worse. Now instead of the simple: "Wear another layer, it's freezing outside," it was: "Charles, I read a statistic the other day that half of all people get an STD at some point in their life, so you know, keep it covered." He told me this when I was twelve by the way, when S-E-X was still a word I could only say by spelling. His Mum Mode malfunctions sometimes.

"And don't think I don't know about you two's 'secret' lessons." He went on, giving Liz and me a pointed look.

"They're not very secret anymore." I said getting up then offering a hand to Katie. "And don't act like you just found out on your own, Liz left you a note the other day telling you what we were doing."

Liz gave me an apologetic smile. "I forgot, he wasn't supposed to know."

'Forgot', right. Like I said, keeping anything hidden for long wasn't exactly Liz's forte. I'm surprised she lasted in not telling me that all of Hogwarts's Gryffindor Quidditch team was coming over for the summer.

"You're learning to drive one of those things?" Alicia said, curiosity spiking in her voice. Apart from me, she was the only one of our group who knew about the Muggle world, more than what everyone else learned in Muggle Studies. Her aunt she regularly visited in Greece was married to a muggle.

"Unfortunately." Theo replied for me as we all started for the car.

"Haven't you started to yet?" Liz asked Alicia. "I think I was your age when my cousins taught me."

I opened my mouth, racking my brain for an excuse for her, but Alicia beat me to it.

"My mum doesn't know how to drive and my dad is about as helpful as a pile of bricks seeing as he's not currently around." She replied smoothly, so smoothly that it was actually, probably, the truth.

"Oh," Liz let out, biting her lip. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…"

Alicia gave a half-hearted shrug, seemingly unbothered, as she scooched into the backseat, Angelina right behind her.

Liz stood beside me, unsure, while Theo gave her a slight shake of his head as he opened the front car door. Her lips puckered anyway, about to say something.

"I don't know how to drive either." Oliver cut in from behind us.

I turned. He was tossing the ball back and forth in his hands, a slight sheen of sweat still on his forehead as he headed for the passenger seat.

With Liz's attention on him now, I ducked my head to take a seat next to Katie.

"Really? You're seventeen aren't you? You should have a license by now."

Oliver glanced at me from the front of the car as I scooted over in the already crowded backseat to make room for Liz. This time I was the one who swooped in to the rescue. "Oh well, Oliver's a bit claustrophobic, can't really spend such a prolonged time in a confined space like an automobile." I lied through my teeth.

Oliver nodded, turning away.

"Or a broom closet." I could've sworn he muttered.

xxx

"Hey! You're back!" George met us outside, looking a bit like he had set himself on fire but then doused himself in flour to stamp the flames. It didn't make any sense, but then, I didn't really expect any less. At least the house was still upright. "We thought you'd get back much, much later."

I raised a brow as the rest stepped out of the car. "So what you mean to say is, after three hours, there's still no food?" I questioned.

"Pfft." George waved his hand at me in a wishy washy manner.

"I think that's a yes." Angelina said.

"It most definitely is not." George objected, backing up and blocking the entryway as soon as we started for the door. "I merely thought," He continued calmly, "That the amazing sport that is football, which I love and have played all my life—

I couldn't help but snort at the overkill.

"—would keep you lot preoccupied for more than a measly couple of hours."

"You expected us to be gone the whole day?" Alicia said, tapping her foot impatiently now as George still refused to let us enter.

"My apologies." George told my brother and Liz. "But producing perfection is like finding your soulmate, nearly impossible—

"—apparently takes more than three hours." Alicia retorted, her incessant tapping getting louder and faster.

"—But well worth the wait." George finished breezily, ignoring her.

Alicia scoffed in reply.

And so for the next few seconds, we all stood there. George smiling cheesily guarding the foyer, Liz and Theo, hardly bothered, leaning against one another, patiently waiting for this "soulmate," Alicia and her very annoying, very—

"Will you stop with the bleeding tapping?" Angelina hissed, accurately voicing my thoughts.

Alicia's plump lips scrunched up, preparing to snap back, but before she could there was a distant crashing noise, and then a not so distant, high pitched yelp.

"Alert! Alert!" Came Fred's voice, still shrill and very much in a high state of panic.

George's grin faltered as his brother came barreling forward, in the same set-on-fire-y and flour-y appearance as his twin.

What I didn't get was why they were so dirty from head to toe? Were they attempting to cook themselves?

When Fred rounded the corner and spotted all of us gathered by the front door, he came to an abrupt stop. "Oh." He let out, then attempted to pat himself down, causing clouds of flour to puff into the air. He pulled on his own signature cheeky smile on his face to replace the flustered expression he initially had on and sauntered to us, all faux confidence and ease, as if he wasn't aware that he looked like a right idiot, because he did and he was. Really, both of them were right idiots at this point.

"Welcome back." He said, voice cracking and betraying this pathetic display.

No one said anything for a while. And then—

"Alright." Oliver said squaring his shoulders in the same way he did when we would take a time-out during a failure of a match. We'd be down a hefty amount and he would look back to the pitch, back stiffening as he told us to get back out there, a look on his face that made it seem like he was unsure of what we would find, as if we hadn't been up on our brooms minutes before. The expression was quite fitting now. It was a bit of a grimace with a touch of uncertainty. He went up the two steps and into the entranceway in one long stride. All he had to do was simply reach out an arm and sweep Fred and George to the side, as if he was pushing back a pair of flimsy curtains from a window.

We all filed in behind him with Fred and George twittering around us, trying desperately to dissuade the inevitable with weak attempts at conversation: "Katie, you're looking particularly blonde today, have you been putting lemons in your hair like a crazy person again?" "Alicia, you're looking particularly sour today, have you just eaten some lemons?"

Only steps away from the kitchen, I was mentally preparing myself for the catastrophe that was once our kitchen, expecting worse, but once we entered it was…well, it was completely fine.

Apart from the precariously stacked tower of pancakes on the island and some dirty pots and pans in the sink nothing seemed to be amiss. A Tomato Twat Bomb exploding in my house was to be expected, but now I was even more suspicious that it hadn't.

My eyes narrowed, scrutinizing every inch of the kitchen before George toppled over me putting an arm around my shoulders. "Well look at that! Time to eat!"

"What are you—

George cut me off with a nervous bout of laughter, pushing me forward to the dining room as Fred grabbed the plate of pancakes which swerved dangerously from his gusto but miraculously stayed put.

"Hey! Wait!" I let out trying to resist George's prodding.

"Why wait when there's food on the table, am I right?" Fred cut in, steering everyone else behind us.

Normally I would wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment but their frantic behavior didn't exactly wet my appetite.

"If you're hiding some—

George let out a piercing bark of laughter that made my ears ring. "Hide something?" He repeated, tone flabbergasted. "Whatever for?"

"It's not like we've done anything wrong!" Fred added, equally dramatic.

"Subtlety isn't really a strong suit for you two, is it?" Angelina said.

Alicia snorted. "Neither is intelligence."

George glanced behind him. "Oi, Spinnet, do I need to remind you we scored higher than you in our exams last year?"

"So?" Alicia shot back.

"So, watch who you call unintelligent," Fred said. "Because it so happens we are—

"Um, guys?"

We all turned to see Katie standing underneath the archway that divided the dining room from the kitchen, dabbing at a dollop of beige-colored gunk on her shoulder. "I think there's something on the ceiling."

Ina flash, I strode back inside the kitchen before George could stop me, shooting Katie a questioningly look before tilting my head back. My mouth dropped open. "Oh. My. God." Right then, as if to emphasize how much Fred and George done fucked up, a giant glop of sludge landed squarely on my chest.

There was a bustle of footsteps as everyone crowded around me and Katie to see. The silence was deafening.

Then, as if sensing we were all accounted for, the thick layer of pancake batter smeared over the entire ceiling decided it was time to make it rain, all over the—what was previously—pearl white kitchen and all over us.

As Katie gasped and sputtered next to me, I was still frozen in shock from the initial blow to the chest that I couldn't even begin to move on to the new coating.

"Imbeciles." Alicia spat out furiously—no, seriously, she was literally spitting out batter—"Complete imbeciles!"

"...So I don't suppose you lot want pancakes still?" Fred said weakly.

I'm positive the turn of our heads to glare at him was simultaneous.

"Pfft—Hahaha!"

My head whipped back. Theo, covered in slimy batter, was doubled over laughing. Typical. Of course the secret connoisseur of lunchroom food fights (I say secret because he never got caught, had to maintain that golden boy image you know) would think this is funny. But beside him, I was surprised to see Liz was trying to keep from cracking up. You could tell even with her face masked in flour and raw eggs.

"Seriously Theo?" I said flabbergasted, raising my arms and spraying the sides of the island in the process. "How can you even be laughing at this point, the whole kitchen's got to be soaked thro—Augh!"

This time Liz was flat out chortling as I stood there dripping in a fresh layer of batter, fuming.

"I'm sorry," Theo gasped between laughs, "I couldn't resist."

"Yeah, well." I said scraping a hand against my face and flinging the remnants at my brother. But of course, being the excellent marksman I am, I completely missed and it hit Angelina right in the face.

My eyes widened as Alicia let out a loud snort next to me. "Bullocks, sorry Angelina! I didn't mean to—I was aiming for this prat."

Angelina didn't say anything, merely bent to scoop up some batter from the floor. I winced readying myself for her attack, but she hurled it at Alicia instead, effectively shutting her snickering right up.

"Ugh!" Alicia growled. "You know you're not the only one who can throw like a troll!" And to prove her point Alicia started to chuck the goop at an alarming rate.

She wasn't exactly dainty about it and the ammunition wasn't the firmest, which is how the Pancake Batter War of 1994 commenced.

I ducked behind the island, having split from everyone else in order to obtain some more ammo and shield myself from the throws of Gryffindor's finest chasers. I could hear Katie squealing, Angelina letting out a cry of victory, someone slip and fall, their laughter never ceasing.

My ears perked up when I heard some scuttling too close for comfort. I cupped my hand readying myself for whoever was coming round the corner. As soon as I saw bare skin, I wacked it with some batter.

"Was that the first time you've actually hit someone you intended to hit?" Oliver asked. Apart from the lumpy liquid dripping down his chin he was relatively clean.

"Oh, shut it." I said gathering some more batter in my hand and piling some on top of his head for good measure as he crouched down beside me.

"Will you stop?" He said swatting my hand away.

"This is the price you have to pay for barging in on my safe haven." I told him. "And for making fun of me."

Once his hair was completely drenched I sat back, satisfied. "All done!"

"Brilliant. Now it's my turn." He said, catching my hand before I could scramble away.

"Is this the thanks I get for welcoming you to my refuge with open arms?" I let out, trying to break free and failing miserably.

"That's what you call open arms?"

Struggling wasn't getting me anywhere, his grip was ironclad. Giving up on trying to budge free from his grasp, I opted for a subtler, smidge diabolical way to escape. This time I sidled up to him, our chests mere inches apart, our noses almost touching. His browns eyes, shone dark against the creamy layer of batter on his face, widened in confusion and something else I chose not to delve into at the moment. Caught off guard I easily slipped my hand from his, threw some more batter on his shocked face for good measure and ran off.

I figured I'd only have a span of three seconds before he snapped out of it and came after me so I had to put as much distance between us as possible.

"What the bleeding hell."

Make that two seconds, I miscalculated.

I glanced behind me and he was making quick work of closing in. Must be nice having such abnormally long limbs. Curse my abnormally short ones!

I was about to grab a pan from a nearby counter for a shield, but I ended up stepping on a particularly slippery puddle of batter. I knew immediately I was going to wipe out, the floor too slick to get a real footing, but I reached for the pan anyway. Just as I went plummeting, my arms raised instinctively, my hand wielding the pan wildly in the air. A little too wildly because I about knocked the wind out of a charging Oliver.

Oliver sucked in a breath just as I let out mine as I landed on the floor with a plop.

"Ow." I said.

"Ugh. Ow?" Oliver repeated incredulously and I turned to see him grasping his abdomen. He motioned to it. "Ow."

My lower lip jutted out to form a mocking pout. "Boohoo." I said splashing some batter on his shoes.

His eyes narrowed. "I'll show you 'boohoo'."

But before he could even make a move towards me Fred shrieked, "Enemy in the trenches!"

I watched with a gleeful smile as Oliver was doused from head to toe with incoming throws from every corner of the kitchen.

I pointed at him from my spot on the floor, doubling over at his drenched appearance.

He narrowed his eyes at me and without a word, swooped down, grabbed me by the waist, and proceeded to lift me up into the air.

"Enemy in the trenches!" Katie called from my far left.

That traitor.

I squeezed my eyes shut, bracing myself for the impending slap of cold batter and betrayal.

"Ahh!"

My eyes snapped open. That high-pitched, tad-too-dramatic, horrified scream did not come from me, though it did sound a lot like my own, except less shrill and trying to hold in a laugh, and more about-to-faint-from-the-horror-of-it-all.

"Mum!" Theo let out squeakily.

I've only heard of my brother's terrible twos…and threes and fours, it went on until he was seven, that's when he realized he could get more of what he wanted if he behaved. In front of our parents, teachers, anyone with any kind of authority really, he was transformed from a little pain-in-the-arse-satan-child to the epitome of prim and proper and posh. The sudden change would've been suspicious if my brother wasn't so damn charming to begin with. They had no clue he was doing the devil's bidding (or at least orchestrating massive food fights) on the down low.

Now though, with damming evidence smothered all over his hands, he very well couldn't get out of this pulling the standard golden child charade. We were doomed.

"Mum!" Theo repeated his pitch in check this time. "We didn't expect you for another week!"

Oliver set me down then and together my brother and I slowly inched towards my mother. These kinds of situations had to be treaded carefully. Tears were always imminent, but prepping could make the whole difference between a few drops and shit's going to flood. When in doubt, just sort of circle her slowly and talk as soothingly as you can.

"M-my kitchen…"

"Mum." I said, taking another cautious step towards her.

Her eyes wandered to mine, as if in a daze, a pancake disaster daze, which she promptly snapped right out of once she saw me. Her hand flew to her chest as she let out a dramatic gasp.

I froze. What I could have possibly done that was worse than all of this was beyond me.

"Your…hair."

Oh. That. Well, as you can see my mum had her priorities straightened out alright. Never mind the slime coating it, it was—dare I say—short.

"What have you done?" She cried taking a mucky tendril in hand, mourning the dead tissue solemnly.

I forced my eyes not to roll towards the ceiling. "Mother." I began, but Theo gave me a pointed look, motioning for me to roll with it. I heaved a sigh. "Welcome home."

xxx

I had to hand it to my mum, planning last minute parties on two hours of sleep—so she says, she has a thing for embellishing—was something of a talent. Watching her now, her dark hair pulled back in a simple chignon, her lips stained a muted red, flitting around the expanse of our living room from one person to the other like a hummingbird in the midst of flowers. She was good at this.

She inclined her head to hear a comment being whispered in her ear, leaning back as she let out a laugh. It was a polite one, closed mouth and tinkling. It was a stark contrast to the rough, loud ones she lets out in private. It's a rare occurrence, something like once in a blue moon, and it's always my dad who produces it. They'll be up in their room or in his office and I'd hear it even if I was all the way on the other side of the house. It didn't sound much different than my brother's or mine, snorting and all.

I felt a sudden pang in my chest as I thought this. I really did miss her.

She was furious, of course, forcing a tight smile for everyone before demanding me and Theo to join her in the study, now.

"I come back a day early, one day early, and you have six strangers living here and the kitchen covered in batter."

With mum's back turned I could roll my eyes freely. "Theo said you weren't due to fly back 'til next week." I pointed out. Next to me Theo shot me a look and shook his head.

She ignored me. "Have you no pity for your mother who spent all night at the airport just so she could come home a day early?"

"Of course—

"A week." I corrected.

This time she turned her head sharply.

I gulped. My mother could be utterly ridiculous sometimes, but she could give one hell of a stink eye. "I mean, they're not strangers. They're from school."

"Mum, it was my idea." Theo cut in. "I thought with the wedding and all, Charlie would want some of her mates to attend."

"You have plenty of friends here." Mum told me.

I almost snorted. Yeah , I sure was popular with my party of one.

"Some of her schoolmates to attend." Theo clarified, glancing at me.

She paused, mulling this over for a second before relenting. "Well, you really ought to have told me."

"We know mum, sorry." Theo said placing a hand on her shoulder, to me he winked.

Mum frowned, shooing his grimy hands away from her white sheath dress. But she smiled as soon as he took his offending hand away.

When I was younger I never got how Theo could just say the right thing all the time. I wasn't jealous of this ability, just in awe of it and most of the time, if not all the time, grateful.

I heaved a sigh as I sidestepped a woman making a beeline for mum. She had a pointy chin, too much rouge on her cheeks, and massive permed hair styled in some sort of elaborate updo that had an uncanny resemblance to a bird's nest. She glanced at me as she passed, and I hoped to Merlin she didn't recognize me, or at the very least didn't remember that I had set that same ridiculous hair aflame eight years ago. I ducked my head and made a run for it, just in case she did.

I was in the dining room now. It was filled with the same snobby, pish-poshy people I had the greatest displeasure of dragging a conversation with only a few minutes ago. Not wanting a round two I retreated to the kitchen.

Immediately I was hit with the stark contrast of the chaotic room (scrubbed into pristine white again), bustling with caterers working quickly to get hors d'oeuvres and champagne on trays, and the dining area I had just left. I could barely make out the classical music or the murmur of polite conversation with the roar of the stove and orders being yelled left and right. I did hear the swinging door behind me creak and I jumped out of the way just in time to evade a blow to the head as a server strode in carrying half-empty platters.

I followed the server, watching her ponytail swing emphatically from side to side. She dropped her tray on the island with a loud clang and a pop of her bubblegum before exhaling loudly. She didn't take notice of me or maybe didn't care as she blew back her fringe from her eyes and shouldered a newly filled plate of caviar canapes. She made a face at it before striding away.

The feeling was mutual. I was hoping there would be more chocolate macarons piled somewhere here, but all I was seeing was fish eggs. Blegh.

I bent down and tugged at the hem of my dress, it's too tight and kept riding up, it didn't budge. I've had to take smaller steps all night. As if the fact that my legs were already so short didn't stunt me enough, now I was on par with the pace of a snail or (sadly) even worse, Katie's boyfriend. I had to wear it though, my mum had bought it for me, and I had to make up for the whole Pancake Fiasco somehow.

She wouldn't let us clean it up ourselves. She waved off me and Theo's insistence and though she accepted the apology from Fred and George who told her it had been their fault, she refused their help too. Mum had strict guidelines on How to Be a Great Host, and probably somewhere in there it states to not have your guests scrub down your kitchen, even if they were the ones who set off a batter explosion. I personally don't adhere to those rules and got Oliver to cast some Scourgifys to lessen the workload before the cleaning agency came.

I reluctantly left the refuge of the frenzied kitchen and stepped back out to the droning party in search of chocolate macarons. I didn't get very far, barely even out the door.

"Charlie!"

I resisted the urge to cringe as Ophelia practically sashayed to me.

Ophelia was something like my second cousin on my mum's side. She was also something like a wanker. I once told her this to her face. She told my parents. Wanker.

"Phee." I said as she made a show of kissing one of my cheeks then the other.

"How are you?" She asked appraising me with a cocked brow. Her glossy mouth barely contained a frown of distaste as her eyes settled on my hair.

"Fine." I answered flatly. I didn't bother asking her, she was going to rattle on anyway.

"Well I've just come from a holiday in Aspen. I personally am not too fond of America, but who can say no to a stay at St. Regis? You do know of St. Regis Aspen Resort? It's only a five star hotel! Tell me you've heard of it."

"Can't say I have." I replied.

"Shame." She said sympathetically, as if it was really such a loss.

My gaze wandered away from Ophelia's tanned judgmental face and spotted Katie, Angelina, and Oliver chatting with the cousins I actually did like.

"That reminds me." Ophelia said eyeing the trio as well. "I've just remembered why I came to you in the first place."

Right, because why would someone so highbrow converse with plebeians who've never visited St.—bloody—Regis such as myself?

"Who is that delicious Scotsman you've brought?" Ophelia told me, lips pursing into a predatory smile as she gave Oliver an once-over. "Is he a friend of yours?"

"Sure." I said having enough of the stench of Chanel No 5 and condescension. "As much a friend you can be with someone with trajectory saliva." I told her with a straight-face. Ophelia's mouth dropped open. I went on nodding, "I'm telling you a single word out of his mouth and there's just spit," I waved a hand over my face, "just spit everywhere."

Ophelia looked absolutely appalled.

I shrugged nonchalantly. "But, I mean, other than that, yeah he's an alright bloke. Want me to introduce you?"

"No thank you." She muttered before hurrying away.

"You sure?" I called after her almost letting out a loud guffaw.

Theo appeared beside me, dressed in a very smart suit. "That's got to be a new record." He commented, crunching down on some canapes.

I smirked. "You're forgetting the summer of '91."

He nodded. "Right, who could forget that shit show of a family reunion."

I snorted a little too loudly as I headed towards the dessert table for my third helping. A group of women carrying glasses of wine heard me and glanced at me with a frown as I passed.

"Where have you been anyway?" I asked him grabbing a plate and helping myself to the assortment of cakes displayed. "I've been fending for myself for hours." I spotted sparkling glasses of champagne arranged into the shape of a diamond. Don't mind if I do.

"Uh, yeah," He said swallowing his mouthful of caviar and clearing his throat. "Sorry about that. Got held up."

My eyes followed his, landing on Liz who was trying to extricate herself from her conversation with Ophelia.

I noted the tinge of pink on Theo's cheeks when he looked back to me.

I handed him a glass with an eye roll. "God, can you two keep it in your pants for, like, one minute?"

Theo turned a bright shade of red as he sipped his champagne.

"I mean you've already knocked her u—"

Theo blubbered into his drink. His index finger flew to his mouth, shushing me, his eyes darting around us to see if anyone had heard. "Keep it quiet would you?" He urged, his head still whipping from left to right.

"Sorry, sorry." I said shooting him an apologetic look as I plucked another cake onto my plate. "But exactly how long are you planning to keep this under wraps before it starts getting, you know, apparent?"

Theo shrugged. "Whenever Lizzy's comfortable enough to tell mum and dad." He said taking a fruit tart off my plate.

I replaced it as Liz walked over. "That looked heated." I told her, smirking.

"Hardly!" She said shaking her head. Theo slipped a hand around her waist and laughed. "She was going on about her holiday in Aspen for ages and when I started to tell her about this new product in stock that's got minerals from the Colorado River, she loses interest!"

"Yeah, Phee gets a little confused when conversations are veered away from the topic of herself." I told her. "Most of the people around here do." I motioned to the entirety of the room. "Which is why I'm out of here. Cover me?" I said to Theo.

He gave a salute and Liza wave. I exited the dining room, keeping my glass and plate huddled to my chest as I maneuvered through clumps of people talking and laughing. There were a lot more people in the living room than there was a few minutes ago, the party now in full swing. Which meant my departure was at a perfect timing.

I mumbled an apology as I accidently bumped into someone. The old woman looked away from her group to glance at me. A look of recognition and a smile stretched across her face.

"Oh, hullo Charlize my dear!"

"Aunt Milly, hi!" I said, hoping she wouldn't come any closer.

Great Aunt Milly was perfectly harmless except for the pungent perfume she always wore. Even if I breathed through my mouth I'd end up getting a mouthful of floral and musk. I've taken to holding my breath and giving one-worded replies, that way I'd leave with only a minor headache.

"I'm terribly sorry but I'm in a hurry so—" I breathed in one last breath of fresh air, before holding it as Aunt Milly wrapped her frail arms around me.

"How lovely to see you." She said cheerfully. "Tell me how's school?"

"Great!" I choked out, hoping my grin made up for it.

She didn't seem to notice, just gripped my hand tighter. "Are you thinking of studying medicine like your brother?"

"Mmm." I shrugged.

"Well, whatever you decide, I'm sure it would be just wonderful." She went on. "Now, I forget, what school was it that you go to?"

"Hogwarts."

Her brows furrowed and I realized too late my blunder. "I've never heard of Hogwarts, where is that exactly?"

"Er."

"Scotland." My mum cut in smoothly appearing at my side. She shot me a look as she linked arms with Aunt Milly. "Highly prestigious, marvelous academy." She told her, steering her away.

"Oh, how lovely."

I exhaled finally when they were gone and continued on to the French doors leading to the backyard. I felt a little bad that I'd made such a mistake, but obviously not enough to get back in there. Besides, mum was already doing damage repair, she didn't need any of my help. Honestly, I'd probably end up making things worse.

I kicked off my heels, leaving them behind on the freshly mowed grass and made my way to the pool. I set my food on the ground first then hiked up my skirt, crouching down awkwardly to take a seat. My legs stretched out in front of me, I dipped one foot then the other into the pool, closing my eyes to revel in the warmth of the water flapping gently against my legs, the light scent of roses wafting in the air, and the quietness surrounding me, the only noise coming from the slight buzzing of the fireflies and the murmur of the party behind me.

I popped a miniature cake into my mouth and tilted my head up to look at the swirl of clouds forming, blocking out the shine of the moon. It would've plunged the yard into darkness if it wasn't for the slants of light spilling from the house's windows and the greenhouse's lanterns across from me, keeping everything illuminated.

There was a crunch of grass behind me and I braced myself for a partygoer who decided to wander around, but, thankfully, it was only Katie.

"Hi!" She greeted cheerfully.

"Hey." I moved my plate to join my flute of champagne on my left.

She sat down beside me, gathering her long pale blush skirt into her lap so it wouldn't touch the water as she dipped her feet.

There was a loud burst of laughter from the doors left ajar and Katie glanced back. "Is it always like this?" She asked wondrously, facing forward again to take in Sylvia's glorious garden, her flowers still bright and beautiful even in the dim lighting.

"The garden yes, the party not so much, no." I answered, placing a fruit tart on top Katie's open palm. "It only gets like this when my parents are home."

Katie reached for my hand, holding it. I knew it was meant to be comforting, but instead guilt washed over me.

"Sorry." I said, casting my eyes to the blue tinted, shifting shape of my feet as they swayed with the water. "About not telling you. I just…didn't know how to."

My apology was, at best, flippant and vague, but Katie still squeezed my hand and when I looked at her, I knew she understood what I meant. "It's not exactly the most casual of subjects." She pointed out with a smile.

That was an understatement. 'Hey mates, while some of you are scraping by, my parents are filthy rich!' wasn't a statement you could throw around willy nilly, or better yet, at all. Unless, you fancied a well-deserved punch to the throat, that is.

I returned Katie's smile, slowly but surely, glad, not for the first time that she was as understanding as ever. "No it most definitely isn't." I said, offering her the rest of my dessert.

She took the plate, but set it down between us to share.

"I wonder," I said, breaking the last chocolate macaron in half and giving a piece to Katie, "how Leanne will take it. She was already gutted she couldn't make it."

"The only thing she'd be upset about is this upcoming wedding she'd be missing." She assured me.

"She does live for that kind of stuff." I agreed.

Katie got all sparkly-eyed again. "As she should! Weddings are the most marvelous thing!"

"Then how about you and me give it a shot, Blondie?"

We both turned, but I knew who it was even before I did.

He'd grown taller since I last seen him. His smile was more snarky than kind. But his eyes were the same inviting hazel I spent my entire childhood peering into.

I stood up, raising a brow as I walked towards him. "Cool it, Casanova. She has a boyfriend you know."

"Can't blame a bloke for trying." He shrugged, his mouth splitting into a grin. This time it was familiar.

When I reached him, he stretched his arm out towards me, placing his hand gently on my cheek. "Hullo." He said softly.

The corner of my mouth tipped upwards at the gesture, before doing the same. "Hullo."


Any guesses on this mystery guy? Kudos to anyone who figures it out!
Hope the fact that this chapter's a long one makes up for the time it took for me to update. Hehe...sorry!
Mar